The prospects of an automated, robotic future isn’t just the obsession of labor economists and science fiction writers. It’s also unnerving 15-year-old boys.
When Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert’s son told her he worried there wouldn’t be a job for him when he graduated, the head of one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the world did what any good parent would do: She sat him down in front of The Jetsons.
The Jetsons, an early 1960s cartoon about a family in the far future, “was way ahead of its time,” Engelbert tells Quartz. The show explored society’s anxieties about automation and the future of work. George Jetson, the father, works two hours a week, and the family’s housework is performed by Rosie, the robot maid. Even the family dog, Astro, is reliant on automation—he is walked on a treadmill.
“I wanted him to see that in the ’60s and ’70s, we worried about it, too,” Engelbert said.
Engelbert devotes a lot of her time to thinking about technology and the future of employment. An increasing number of Deloitte’s auditing tasks are now performed by algorithms, which are more thorough and accurate than human auditors, she says. Instead of examining only a sample of a corporation’s thousands and thousands of documents for discrepancies, computers enabled with artificial intelligence can scan and process them all. “There is no doubt this will enhance quality,” she says.
Advances in blockchain technology—the record-keeping system that undergirds Bitcoin—could someday eliminate many other accounting functions, with companies putting their records on digital ledgers that could be inspected in real time.
As more of the grunt work of accounting is handled by computers, firms like Deloitte will need fewer employees doing that kind of work, Engelbert said, but there will always be a need for human judgment and ingenuity. Engelbert said her son now feels less anxious about the future, but was less than impressed with The Jetsons. Apparently not even its optimistic vision of the future can make up for the limitations of 1960s animation techniques.